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Watching TV May Harm Kids’ Cognitive Development

:Parents buying some time to do the chores by sticking infants in front of the television may be harming their cognitive development,  a study has suggested.
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Researchers at University of Washington in Seattle have carried out the study and found infants vocalise less and hear fewer words from nearby adults when the TV is on, which in turn affects their cognitive development.

“There’s no question that human voice and human words are what babies need. The data aren’t yet conclusive about the fact that television is harmful, but they continue to mount,” lead researcher Dimitri Christakis told the ‘New Scientist‘.

For the study, researchers equipped 329 infants, aged between 2 and 48 months, with lightweight recorders that captured every noise they heard in a 24-hour period. Then, a computer programme determined whether each sound came from the infant, an adult or the television.

The analysis showed that for every hour of television an infant is exposed to — they don’t understand television programmes, Christakis says — he or she hears 770 fewer words from adults, on average, a 7 per cent reduction.

Infants watching TV also utter fewer “googoos” and “gagas” and interact less with adults than kids whose parents use the off switch more enthusiastically, the study, published in the ‘Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine’, found.

Given that a staggering 30 per cent of US households keep a television on at all times, this can have a substantial effect on an infant’s development, according to Christakis.

“The newborn brain is very much a work in progress. All that cognitive stimulation is critical to the underlying architecture that’s developing. Every word that babies hear, and every time they hear it, is extremely important.

“Many of these DVDs that target infants claim that they promote parent-child interaction — which they don’t. The take-home message for parents is to minimise exposure to TV during the first two years,” he said.

In fact, this finding is backed up by observations made by a team at the University of Massachusetts, which found that infants exposed to television hear 20 percent fewer words from their parents during each hour of programming they watch.

“Parents are less engaged with the children if the television is on. Children over two learn a lot of vocabulary from television,” Daniel Anderson, who led the back-up study, said

Source: The times Of India

 
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Steps on Enlarged Heart ‘Uncovered’

Researchers in the US claim to have got new insight into the mechanisms that underlie an enlarged heart — a finding that could lead to development of new treatment for managing this common cardiac ailment.

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An enlarged heart can lead to heart failure (Image: CNRI, Science Photo Library)

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According to them, high blood pressure, heart valve disease and heart attacks can lead to a abnormal thickening of the heart muscle, called myocardial hypertrophy, which plays a role in the pathological increase in the heart size.

At the molecular level, signals driving myocardial hypertrophy, like elevated levels of catecholamine hormones, activate the Myocyte Enhancer Factor (MEF) proteins. This alters gene expression in heart muscle cells and induces an adverse developmental paradigm known as “fetal gene response”.

“Previous research has shown that the signalling pathways leading to MEF2 are altered during pathological cardiac hypertrophy. Although we know that enzymes called histone deacetylases (HDACs) control MEF2 activity, it was not clear that HDACs and MEF2 were integrated into a larger signalling unit,” lead author John D Scott said.

To further identify the molecular mechanisms associated with cardiac hypertrophy, Scott and colleagues at the University of Washington studied cardiac A-Kinase Anchoring Proteins (AKAPs), which are known to play a critical role in organising signalling complexes in response to catecholamine hormones and transmitted signals within cells.

The researchers found that AKAP-Lbc functions as a scaffolding protein that selectively directs catecholamine signals to the transcriptional machinery to potentiate the hypertrophic response, the ‘Cell Press‘ journal reported.

“Our study supports a model where AKAP-Lbc facilitates activation of protein kinase D, which in turn phosphorylates the histone deacetylase HDAC5 to promote its export from the nucleus. The reduction in nuclear HDAC5 favoured MEF2 transcription and onset of cardiac hypertrophy,” Scott said.

Sources: The Times Of India

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Mind Power Moves Paralysed Limbs

Scientists have shown it is possible to harness brain signals and redirect them to make paralysed limbs move.

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The technology bypasses injuries that stop nerve signals travelling from the brain to the muscles, offering hope for people with spinal damage.

So far the US team from the University of Washington have only tested their “brain-machine interfaces” in monkeys.

The hope is to develop implantable circuits for humans without the need for robotic limbs, Nature reports.

Wired up
Spinal cord injuries impair the nerve pathways between the brain and the limbs but spare both the limb muscles and the part of the brain that controls movement – the motor cortex.

“Similar techniques could be applied to stimulate the lower limb muscles during walking” Says Lead researcher Dr Chet Moritz

Recent studies have shown that quadriplegic patients – people who have paralysis in all four limbs – can consciously control the activity of nerve cells or neurons in the motor cortex that command hand movements, even after several years of paralysis.

Using a gadget called a brain-machine interface, Dr Chet Moritz and colleagues re-routed motor cortex control signals from the brains of temporarily paralysed monkeys directly to their arm muscles.

The gadget, which is the size of a mobile phone, interprets the brain signals and converts them into electrical impulses that can then stimulate muscle to contract.

By wiring up artificial pathways for the signals to pass down, muscles that lacked natural stimulation after paralysis with a local anaesthetic regained a flow of electrical signals from the brain.

Life-changing
The monkeys were then able to tense the muscles in the paralysed arm, a first step towards producing more complicated goal-directed movements, such as grasping a cup or pushing buttons, say the researchers.

Lead researcher Dr Chet Moritz said: “This could be scaled to include more muscles or stimulate sites in the spinal cord that could activate muscles in a coordinated action.”

“Similar techniques could be applied to stimulate the lower limb muscles during walking.”

The scientists found the monkeys could learn to use virtually any motor cortex nerve cell to control muscle stimulation – it did not have to be one that would normally controlled arm movement. And their control over the muscles improved with practice.

The researchers say they need to do trials in humans, meaning a treatment could be decades away.

Dr Mark Bacon, head of research at the UK charity Spinal Research, said: “This is clearly a step in the right direction and proves the principle that artificially transducing the will to move generated in the brain with relevant motor activity can be achieved.

“However, these results have been produced in experimental models where there is no injury per se.”

He said injury-induced changes to the nerve circuits might hinder the technology’s application in real life.

Also, brain-machine interfaces communicate in only one direction – in this case from the brain to the muscle.

“Sensory feedback, so important for fine control of movements and dexterity, is still some way away,
” he said.

Sources: BBC NEWS:15 October 2008

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Five Very Healthy but Uncommon Food

Jicama……………..

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Jicama (HE-kuh-muh) is a Central American root vegetable that looks like a potato or turnip but is juicy and slightly sweet. You can slice it and eat it raw, or boil it like a potato, till soft.

Why it’s healthy: One cup contains just 49 calories and is loaded with 6 grams of fiber. It also packs a hefty dose of vitamin C.

Where to find it
: The produce sections of high-end supermarkets, like Whole Foods and Fresh Market.

Aioli………….

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Aioli (eye-OH-lee) is a light, mayonnaise-style sauce made of olive oil, eggs, and garlic. It originated in the south of France and is traditionally served with seafood, hard-boiled eggs, and vegetables.

Why it’s healthy: As a replacement for commercial soybean-oil mayonnaise, aioli provides a tasty source of heart-healthy olive oil, protein- and vitamin E-rich eggs, and cholesterol-lowering, cancer-fighting garlic.

Where to find it: Aioli isn’t stocked by many regular supermarkets, but it’s easy to purchase at online sites, such as savorypantry.com or gourmetfoodstore.com. Or … make your own.

Sunflower Greens………………..

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These crunchy, nutty-tasting sprouts arise when sunflower seeds are grown in soil for about a week.

Why they’re healthy: They contain much of the heart-healthy fat, fiber, and plant protein found in sunflower seeds.

Where to find them: Locate the greens in your local farmer’s market or in the produce section of some higher-end grocery stores.

Rooibos Tea…………

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Rooibos (ROY-bus) is a vibrant red tea made from a South African legume. The tea is caffeine-free and also naturally sweet, so you won’t need to add sugar.

Why it’s healthy: Rooibos is loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants and has been shown to boost the immune system. In fact, a recent Japanese study on mice and rats suggests that rooibos tea may help prevent both allergies and cancer.

Where to find it: Look for Celestial Seasonings rooibos teas (we like Madagascar Vanilla Red) in your local grocery store, or try the Adagio brand, an organic product that features 13 different all-natural flavors (adagio.com).

Kefir……………………

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Similar to yogurt, this fermented dairy beverage is made by culturing fresh milk with kefir grains.

Why it’s healthy: Because kefir contains gut-friendly bacteria, it’s been shown to lower cholesterol, improve lactose digestion, and enhance the immune system. In addition, University of Washington scientists recently demonstrated that kefir was more effective than fruit juice or other dairy beverages at helping people control hunger.

Where to find it:
Look for kefir in the health-food section of your local supermarket, or in the dairy aisle of health-food stores, such as Whole Foods.

Provided by Men’s Health

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Red Hot Medicine

Chilli peppersImage via Wikipedia

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A chemical found in chillies protects the plant from a fungus as well as our guts from bacterial infections.

Biologist Joshua Tewksbury has peeked into an aeons-old war between a plant and a fungus in rural Bolivia, and completed a long-standing puzzle about chillies. In a study of wild capsicum plants native to eastern Bolivia, Tewksbury has shown that the plants are loaded with a chemical that appears uniquely designed to protect them from a fungus called Fusarium.

Human taste buds have long been familiar with the chemical — capsaicin. It is the ingredient from chillies that goes into hundreds of dishes from cuisines worldwide — from Andhra chicken curry to Gaeng Phed, a spicy red curry from Thailand, to spicy Mexical lentils. Capsaicin in chillies provides the spicy taste to dishes. For plants, Tewksbury — of the University of Washington in Seattle — has found, capsaicin is self-defence against a microbe.

Microbes, it turns out, may help explain two elements of a puzzle about chillies. Why are chillies spicy? Why did humans begin to eat chillies — a spicy, even painful, fruit — in the first place?

One question was solved 10 years ago. Jennifer Billing, an undergraduate at Cornell University, scanned dozens of cookbooks and compiled a list of more than 4,500 recipes representing meat-based cuisines from 36 countries.

Then Billing and Paul Sherman, a professor of neurobiology and behaviour at Cornell, analysed temperature and rainfall patterns and cultivation ranges of 43 spice plants in each of those countries, and the anti bacterial properties of each plant.

The exercise threw up a distinct pattern on the map. The world appeared to have a hot zone — a band on either side of the equator where temperatures are high and the food tends to be spicy hot.

India, Thailand and Malaysia were at the top of the hot climate and hot food list. Sweden, Finland and Norway were the coldest countries with the least spicy food. The scientists also found that spices were microbe killers. Garlic, onion and oregano were the most efficient, wiping out virtually all bacteria, followed by cinnamon, cumin and thyme that kill 80 per cent of bacteria. Capsicum and chillies eliminate about 75 per cent of bacteria.

The Cornell biologists proposed that humans began to add spices to their food centuries ago — without realising it — to lower the risk of food-borne microbial infections. Some bacteria that might enter human stomachs through food have the potential to kill. The taste for spicy food, Sherman and Billing postulated, was a trait that would be beneficial — culturally and genetically.

“People who enjoyed food with anti bacterial spices probably were healthier, especially in hot climates,” said Sherman. “They lived longer, they left more offspring — and they taught their offspring how to cook food (with spices).”

The new study has solved the second botanical puzzle about chillies. A spicy fruit on first analysis is perplexing to evolutionary biologists. A plant makes fruit to lure insects and animals to eat and disperse its seeds to facilitate reproduction. “So it doesn’t make sense for a fruit to be painfully hot,” said Douglas Levey of the University of Florida, Gainesville, who was part of the six-member team that studied Bolivian chillies.

The researchers found that capsaicin significantly slows microbe growth and protect the fruit from Fusarium. Their findings were published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Eastern Bolivia was the ideal locale for this study. A variety of wild capsicum grows there along a stretch of some 1,600 kilometres. Some are spicy and pungent, while others lack capsaicin and are less or not at all spicy.

Scars left by insects feeding on capsicum are used by the fungus as gateways into the fruit. The researchers counted the insect scars, analysed rates of fungal attack and levels of capsaicin in the plants. They found that hot plants were hotter with higher levels of capsaicin in areas where fungal attacks were common. In areas with few insects — and thus less danger of fungal attack — the plants were less spicy.

The studies consistently showed that a high level of capsaicin was associated with lower seed mortality from fungal attack. The findings appear to be general and could also be applicable to chillies grown elsewhere, including India, said Tewksbury. “There are reasons to suspect that fungi and microbes are general targets of these capsaicins,” Tewksbury told KnowHow.

But while capsaicin slows microbial growth and protects the fruit from Fusarium, it doesn’t interfere with seed dispersal. “Birds don’t have the physiological machinery to detect the spicy chemical and continue to eat peppers and disperse the seeds,” Levey said.

The study shows that the use of chillies by humans appears to mirror the evolutionary function of capsaicin. “The capsaicin in chillies may have protected early humans from microbial infections,” said Tewksbury.

Researchers argue that before the advent of refrigeration, it was probably beneficial to eat chillies, particularly in the hot tropics. Studies suggest that all chillies originated in South America, and explorers carried the plants to Europe and elsewhere. Today, scientists estimate, one in four humans worldwide consumes chillies daily. “The use of chilli peppers as a spice has spread to nearly every culture within 20 degrees of the equator,” said Levey, “and it tends to decline as you move toward the poles.”

Sources
: The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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